Can Screened High Tunnels Extend the Growing Season of Bitter Melon in the Midwest?

2006 Annual Report for FNC05-551

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Pov Huns
Huns Garden

Can Screened High Tunnels Extend the Growing Season of Bitter Melon in the Midwest?


A. Purchased a small greenhouse kit (8.2’L x 6.3’ W x 6.4’ H) from Harbor Freight Tool, cost $399. Labor for setting it up is 3 hours and is paid for by matching funds.
B. Purchased a 30’ W x 12’H x 96 L Farmtek High Tunnel kit with single layer of poly and rollup sides. Cost: $3145. Purchased cedar wood for hip board at $400. Labor for setup was 60 hours.
C. Purchased 0.45 oz row cover attached to side and end walls to be used as an insect screen. Cost: $166. Labor for installation was 4 hours.
D. Purchased seeds. Cost: $161. First set of seeds failed so the second purchase was also $161.
E. Purchased 200 metal T-posts at a cost of $3.79 each. Labor to set up T-posts was 4 hours.
F. Purchased one box of poly twine @ $30 and 10 rolls of small yarn @ $2.99 each to make trellis net. Labor was 4 hours.
G. Purchased one roll of Plastic mulch @ $117.
H. Field prep labor: 8 hours.
I. Drip irrigation, 1000’ of ¾” head line @ $117.25; Queen gil 8 mil drip tape @ $57.50; and a gardener’s irrigation quick kit @ $115 (included a filter, pressure regulator with hose fitting on inlet and adapter to header line and header line cap, drip lock with valve fittings and punch. Laying mulch and drip line labor was 16 hours.
J. Water well drill, install pump and storage tank @ $4550.
K. Harvest and maintenance of the field
1. April thru June 15, 2006: Seeding, growing, and training on trellis (2 hours/day, 3 days per week for 10 weeks).
2. June 15, 2006 thru October 27, 2006: Harvesting and continue training on trellis (5 hours/day, 3 days per week for 20 weeks).

• The survival rate of transplants older than 4-6 weeks was fairly low. The initial transplants had a 50-80% transplant failure rate.
• The survival rate of transplants that were 2-3 weeks old had a better survival rate than the 4-6 week old plants. Their survival rate was about 50-75%.
• The survival rate of transplants that were 1 week old had the best survival rate over all (80-90%).
• The 4-6 week old transplants were harvested 1-2 weeks before the other transplants. The 2-3 week old transplants and the 1-week old transplants show no significant time difference between their harvests. Overall, the transplanted bitter melon plants had a 2-3 week earlier harvest than the direct-seeded control plot.
• Planting inside the high tunnels somehow caused the bitter melon leaves to become very bitter but made the fruit lighter, so customers tended to buy more fruit due to volume per dollar, but stayed away from the leaves. The leaf production process had to be abandoned.
• Excessive heat built up in July and August so the side screen and the side cover had to be removed to ventilate.
• These old plants survived the initial fall frost, but died during the following hard freeze when the moisture was trapped on the roof and formed ice that dropped back down on to the plants.

Our plan is to try to start the project one month earlier than this year to test the cold tolerance of the younger plants. We plan to set out our first set of transplants in the cold frame by April 1, 2007. A small clear plastic row cover will be set up inside the high tunnel to serve as a cold barrier. We will reduce the variety of bitter melons to five of the best performers and randomly plant two plots of each inside the high tunnels as well as in a control plot outside the tunnel. These plants will be set out at three feet apart in 2007 instead of two feet apart as in 2006.

This year, the information from our project was shared with others as follows:
1. Field day with cooking demonstration – 25 people attended.
2. A documentary film made onsite, following the field day, by Ana Sofia Joanes of Ripple Effect Films.
3. October Kansas City Wellness Magazine article about Medicinal Vegetable (bitter melon) by Dr. Bethany Klug, DO.
4. A presentation of the project at the Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, MO on November 4, 2006.

In 2007, we plan to share our information at the Great Plains Vegetable Conference and possibly at the Wisconsin farmers’ conference and another farm field day.

[Editor’s Note: Pov Huns and his wife Chaxamone Lor gave on-farm tours and provided cooking demonstrations during the Kansas City Urban Farms Tour on June 24, 2007. Pov Huns is scheduled to give an update on his project at the Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, MO on November 3, 2007.]